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H.S. Music Curriculum- Elective Ideas needed.

Good Morning all!
   1st off, thank you for taking the time to read this message.  I appreciate the years and wealth of knowledge that is ChoralNet and feel fortunante to be connected to all of you!
So, here is the situation:
I teach in a 650-700 populated h.s. I currently have 60 students in a "zero hour" (7:12-7:50a.m.) choir and am able to teach some lessons a couple of days a week.  (This is a 40% position this year.) We have a strong band program who meet within the school day and are high ranking on the musicianship scale.  There are also 70 students in the band. 
I am looking for ideas to expand our music elective offerings for the students.  We already have beginning theory and an APtheory course, which are both year long.  We need to add some electives that are only 1 semester long as we have more than enough year long courses available in our building.   
My other ideas are:
- Music appreciation- general music for HS
- music theater - discussion of history(including opera!:-), appropriate singing techniques, staging, preparation of a piece off of our state list, performance/presentation
- Tri- M chapter (however, I dont know if this could really be a class?! a service class maybe.....i haven't done it before but it looks interesting.. Maybe going out and working with the elementary students, being ambassadors for the school concerts, working in other parts of the community!?)
- Solo/ensemble/chamber group class- we currently don't have solo/ensemble festival so this would be a way to incorporate that
- Music Tech.- garage band, music business, finale/sibelius...other ideas here?
* I am in need of more classes that wouldn't target the 25% of students in the building who are already active in music; we need more for the general population.
Thank you all for your time and wisdom!
Replies (12): Threaded | Chronological
on September 24, 2015 4:51am
For our school, Studio Production (used to be called Music Tech) is a big draw for those "other" kids. We often pull them into the ensemble program after they take that elective.
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on September 24, 2015 11:46am
I work at the K-6 level, but here are some ideas that might be adaptable to your situation---
Tri-M chapter, to work with elementary students:  Yes!  Arrange for them to give instrumental or voice lessons, or start a choir.  So many of our elementary schools offer nothing but general music, and schools that do have lessons and choir are under constant pressure from budget cuts and required over-testing.
World Music Drumming: Visit the website and peruse videos on Youtube; also checkout their 5 day summer trainings for teachers.  This is a 20 year old African, Caribbean, and American Indian drumming and singing program designed and administered by Will Schmid, former U of Wisconsin music professor and past president of MENC.  The "catch" is that the program requires $3000 of drums, but this should not be a problem for a district like yours that has money for a "strong" band program.  Just be sure to tie the program to football!  (African drumline at half time or some such.)  There is also a less formal program of Youtube lessons; search "bucket drumming."
Marimba Band: This is another ethnic music that has established itself over the last 20 years, primarily in the Pacific Northwest, thanks to the late Dumisani Mairarie of Zimbabwe.  You can find lots of Youtube videos of musicians from grade school to adult, and the two instructional book/CD sets by Walt Hampton--Hot Marimba and Marimba Mojo--cover the same age range.  The music can be played on Orff, concert, or African instruments.  These last three--World Music Drumming, Bucket Drumming, and Marimba Band--are all quickly accessible to "non" musicians, and easily expandable to include singing.
Concerts or demonstrations by local musicians, individually or in groups: I'm not sure how you'd make this into an elective class....maybe as part of something else?  Perhaps as a "music in society" class, where students have to interview musicians, attend performances and write reports?  I have had many musicians (mostly folk) at my school, and some were willing to come without charge.  I've also paid up to $100 per person for touring professionals--if they are already in the area, they are frequently happy to pick up some additional money for a one hour informal program at a school.  For leads, check your local symphony, your fellow teachers (from K-6 through college), local bands of all types (country, rock, folk, mariachi, etc), area folk music societies and concert series, singer-songwriters, bars that hire musicians, and hospitals and hospices that have musicians playing for patients.  And don't forget about the less standard (for want of a better phrase) instruments like accordion, harmonica, bagpipe, ethnic instruments, etc.  Many of our guests have driven up from Phoenix, 90 miles away.
on September 24, 2015 2:16pm
Thank you much for your ideas!  I very much like your music in society idea.  Maybe that would work with the Tri- M chapter?! ummm...
Thanks again!
on September 25, 2015 7:30am
You & Choralnet contributors above may have mentioned some of these but I have offered suggestions/specifics for some. Sounds like your are already talking to your band director about curriculum additions he or she thinks may be helpful, that dialogue along with 'thinking outside the box' is crucial to the success of all.
Chamber Choir-Auditioned, but be sure it does not pull your prime leadership where needed in regular choral class.
General Music Class:  I have materials that can help & see, stress co-curricular & multi-cultural basis to reinforce historical, etc. links to other course work. Offer as a prerequisite for AP Music Theory and for those not scoring high enough an entrance pre-test for that class.
Beginning Vocal Techniques Class / Sight-Singing for those who may be interested in singing but have not sung in a chorus.  Should involved the Basics of pitch matching, Solfege, Takadimi or whatever counting system/s you prefer. Can pull other serious music students from band and orchestra with cooperation or team teaching with Band/Orchestra director.  Being in a primary ensemble must be a pre-requisite. (I have warm-ups that may be helpful:
Vocal Phonics-  Suggest the Intro.,_Nicola) to the Vaccai Italian Method as a starting point.
Music History-  Perhaps Could pull from Band &Chorus Students wishing to major in music in college and hopefully having room for an extra elective.
Physics in the Arts: Basic Study of Acoustics etc. related to music.  In the 1970's Univ. of S.Carolina offered this but I never had the opportunity to take it when offered. Your Science Dept. may have some ideas.  Teaching basics of sound wave would reinforce so many math and science concepts and give music students another way of relating to science/math & vice versa.
Electronic Music/ Basic Music Arranging/Composition: Intro to Synthesizer, Music Writing Programs - Finale-SmartMusic & Sibleius, etc.
As you mentioned, any or some of these might be offered in a mini-course arrangment to supplement major ensemble classes.
David C. Woodard, Jr
Music Education Consultants, Inc.
Fairview, NC 
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on September 25, 2015 9:05am
Regarding David'sexcellent suggestion to incorporate physics and acoustics as related to music:  If actual classroom demonstrations prove impractical, there are many Youtube videos on this subject, ranging in duration from a couple of minutes up.  Some of the ones I have used: video of vocal cords in action, generation of speech by a mechanical mouth and throat, oscilloscope, use of trumpet mutes to alter sound, overtone series shown via a 6' vibrating rod (this is part of a series of videos made by a HS physics teacher), guitar construction, building and playing an alphorn in the Swiss Alps, and making and tuning flutes, reed making, and bamboo saxes, organs, and many experimental instruments.
I forgot to recommend in my previous post the use of a timeline across the top of the front wall of the music room.  This provides a good visual reference for every composer, composition, song, instrument, event and technology that you discuss in class.
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on September 26, 2015 1:47pm
Holliston High School in Holliston, Massachusetts has a program of quarter-year electives which includes Music in Movies, Create your own movie music, Music Business, Music as Protest, Music Technology, Percussion Ensemble as well as more common piano, guitar, and vocal classes.
Leslie Dooley (parent)
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on September 27, 2015 8:28am
You should most definately check out Modern Band.  Little Kids Rock is an amazing charity that supports and trains teachers in Modern Band. They are located in New Jersey where I see you are.  
They provide up to 30 instruments to start your program.
It's perfect for a general music elective. More info on modern band at and
There is a free training on Nov. 14 there.  Apply here:
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on September 27, 2015 8:36am
i am working toward starting a beginning guitar class in our school. Freinds of mine swear that this is the way to go. I would also encourage you to teach a History of Rock and Roll class--get non-band/choir students involved in your area!
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on September 28, 2015 11:11am
Google "Teaching Guitar Workshops" if you haven't already found it.  They also offer a weekly newsletter.
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on September 27, 2015 4:35pm
I think all the suggestions have been great. Another route connected with guitars is ukuleles. They are cheaper to purchase than guitars, and if you get the baritone ukes, they are tuned like the highest four strings of the guitar, so switching from one to the other could be an easy transition. We got a set of 12 for our school and then added 3 more. Even in our largest general music classes, there are enough ukes to share/partner up/take turns. This also lets their poor fingers get a break, which is important when they're just starting out. 
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on September 28, 2015 4:42am
I teach a Music and Art History class and a musical theater class focusing on the history of Broadway, that uses a DVD series from PBS. If you have keyboards you could also teach a piano class. 
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on October 25, 2015 7:51am
Guitar is the #1 most popular instrument in America, by a wide margin over the #2 instrument, piano. Traditional band instruments are way down the list. The beauty of offering a guitar program in a high school is that you don't have to recruit - you will get a lot of students beating down your door to get into the class. You won't be cannabalizing students from the other music ensembles, you get a completely different type of student taking guitar that normally would never set foot in the music building. In fact, after students take guitar, some of them will get interested in some of the other classes - choir, AP Music Theory, jazz ensemble, etc. The start-up costs for a guitar program are modest, and it costs very little to maintain once you have the equipment. And it can easily fill out a part-time teaching schedule into a full-time position.
Guitar is an easy instrument to learn. I would think that just about anybody who studied music in college could pick up enough skills on guitar over a summer in order to teach a beginning level course.
Also, in your situation I would try to shoot for an auditioned choir. You have a large enough student body to support two choirs, and possible even three (such as a mixed training choir, an intermediate/auditioned women's choir, and an auditioned mixed chamber choir). But do you really need the non-AP theory class? My school is three times the size of yours, and we just offer the AP theory course.
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